By: Andy Couch

Green leaves emerging in spring signals that Alaska’s state fish, the king (Chinook) salmon will soon be pushing into Mat-Su Valley rivers and streams. The first few king salmon will likely be taken from valley locations during the week of May 8-14. Kings are the largest and first salmon to show up in the Mat-Su’s freshwater fisheries, but they are also the least abundant and therefore king salmon harvest and bait fishing opportunities are limited. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G)) acknowledges three Mat-Su Valley freshwaters where sport fishing king salmon harvest opportunities will be expanded during the 2017 season.

Eklutna Tailrace

The slightly warmer waters drawn from Eklutna Lake and diverted through the Eklutna Hydroelectric Plant (located along the Old Glenn Highway) provide an open-water opportunity for anglers to fish year-round. With warmer springtime temperatures a number of eager local anglers have been spending time casting at the tailrace for the past couple weeks. The low-lying snow and ice near the tailrace is nearly melted and leaves are emerging in sunnier valley locations. The gate to the tailrace parking lot has been opened for the season and the riverside fish cleaning table has been installed. The only question remaining to be answered is, ‘When will a season-pushing angler land the first Eklutna Tailrace king salmon in 2017’?

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Expanded Tailrace Harvest Opportunity

With regulations that allow year-round king salmon harvest, the use of bait and treble hooks and 24 hour per day fishing all year, expanded harvest opportunity should come at the tailrace fishery primarily as a result of increased stockings of hatchery raised smolts for the past three-to-four years. During the 2017 season a larger percentage of the returning kings should be the older and larger fish.

The tailrace yields king salmon in a wide range of sizes with strong numbers of fish in the 10-15 pound range, decent numbers of fish in the 15-25 pound class and lower numbers of 25-40 pound lunkers. While only one king salmon 20 inches or larger may be kept per day (5 fish seasonal limit), jack king salmon (those less than 20 inches in length) provide a bonus harvest opportunity with a 10 fish per day and no seasonal limit.

Eklutna Tailrace Youth Only Fishery

On June 17, 2017 that portion of the tailrace fishery from the footbridge downstream to the tailrace confluence with the Knik River is designated as a youth only zone, providing youth an enhanced opportunity to fish for and catch a king salmon. Anglers over 15 years of age may still fish on June 17 – in waters upstream or downstream from the youth only zone.  ADF&G may provide loaner fishing rod and reel combinations for those who don’t have one. Contact ADF&G’s Samantha Oslund at (907) 746-6332 for more information.

Deshka River King Salmon

For the first time in five years ADF&G is expecting to allow king salmon fishing, harvest and bait fishing in the Deshka as listed in the Southcentral Alaska fisheries regulation booklet. With boat launch repair and gate replacement currently ongoing at Deshka Landing and with ice flows still coming down the Susitna River, Deshka Landing is scheduled to open at 8 am on Friday May 12.

For the past several years the Deshka River has provided the largest harvest of wild king salmon in the Mat-Su Valley. This year bait fishing will start on June 1. Fishing hours are from 6 am to 11 pm. The daily limit is one king salmon 20 inches or larger. Anglers will be allowed to harvest their full five fish seasonal limit of king salmon. Jack king salmon limits are 10 daily/no seasonal.

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While the Deshka River frequently produces the first king salmon harvested in the Mat-Su Valley this fishery is incredibly more productive when the bait fishery opens on June 1. Drifting Fire Cured salmon roe under bobbers, still fishing roe near the Deshka River/ Susitna River confluence or bouncing roe or spawn sacks in the areas with faster currents all produce good numbers of king salmon during a normal season. While the Deshka River has large numbers of king salmon, 15-20 pound kings are usually considered good-sized “keepers” on this river. Last year’s return past the Deshka River salmo